Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Requests by Friends and Family as an Expat

It's not your normal affair. My guests come half way around the world. Very often they are on some sort of European tour and let me know they want to stop in Padua. Other times they come specifically to see me and this part of Italy for a longer stay. But that is just the point. The visit is heavily laden with touring on their minds. After all, they are on vacation for a week or more. They have a city, country or all of Europe to discover.

Meanwhile I am settled in this place. I have lived here for over twelve years now, off and on, and the last six have been steady in one city. I have a normal job with hours, clients and basically mandatory vacation time periods, just when the work naturally wanes. Officially I am freelance but it's quite a scam here in Italy--the freelance status, I mean. It's not as "free" as it is designed to be, especially in my field of teaching. (Maybe I'll do a post on it soon?)

This contrast is significant because it creates conflict between their desires and my capabilities. Most of the time, I am barely on vacation myself during their stay in Padua. I desperately want to enjoy their company but have the pressures of work, the money loss of not working if I do take off time to be with them, as well as house to cater to and husband to keep in the mix.

Every moment weighs heavily as I spend time with these beloved people. We haven't seen each other for between 6 months and 3 years. Everything should be perfect as we spend time together since we haven't seen each other for so long and won't see each other again for quite a while, most likely. Meanwhile I am well as seeing them.

It's out of the question to be in a bad mood or talk poorly about anything. Those words get imprinted forever by these special listeners, who have come from across the ocean.

I try to be a tour guide. I do love talking about the places I know well. I am even good at it. However it can get tiring. I am often visiting what I have seen many times before. My friends and family rely on me to prepare many, many aspects of their trip. They are often timid about making reservations and plans themselves for fear of a language or cultural problem. Irene can do it so much more easily, right? I usually help, but it goes beyond my normal relationship as friend or family. Since when does an American friend ask you to put together hotel accomodations, tours and travel tips when you want to visit San Francisco or Santa Fe? Can't the guide books help out with 80% of that, if not more? But in a foreign country, these requests just seem normal for the American to ask of me. Meanwhile I haven't visited some of the places on their tour for 5-10 years because they are in distant regions from me in Northeast Italy.

Or then there are those who get the information about possible hotels, for example, and then don't use it. Of course, that's their right but it sure makes my effort feel insignificant and not particularly appreciated.

What bothers me most is the pressure to make everything perfect. I have to be "on" all the time. I wish the visitors could better understand that the imperfections don't have to be indelible. Sometimes, they are just witnessing temporary lapses of an expat that is experiencing her regular life with special guests while their visit may be during the vacation of a lifetime.


  1. Oh Irene, I feel your pain. I, at times, prefer them to visit while I am working rather than have them take up all of my holiday time. I used to fret over hotel choices and itineraries , but now I insistnthey use guide books! Our last set of visitors were family who just wanted to "be with us.". It was fantastic.

  2. I am insisting more on the guide books. "Be with us" is a great status, but they have to also be able to entertain themselves during the days in order for the total pressure to let up.